It’s next to impossible to write about the Church without mentioning “Under the Milky Way”. It’s the convenient touchstone by which to reference the band – the song most people are likely to know. I’m as guilty as any, having written an article on the song. At this point, if the band and the fans aren’t sick of the song, they’re probably sick of reading about it.
In actuality, that tune is but one small part of what the Church is all about, and that’s never been more evident than on their new multi-faceted Further/Deeper. The 25th (depending how you count them) album from Australia’s purveyors of the psychedelic and melodic, it also finds them with a new guitarist, Ian Haug (late of Powderfinger) replacing original member Marty Willson-Piper, who reportedly didn’t respond to band requests to record new material.
The twin lead guitars of Peter Koppes and Haug (like Koppes and Willson-Piper before) complement and build on each other, interweaving to the point where it’s often difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. It’s a testament to Haug’s skills and the adaptability of the band that, despite the personnel shakeup, the musical interplay still sounds so natural. That grand, lush, refined yet spirited sound the Church is known for remains.
Never a band short on material, an abundance of songs were recorded for this outing (including 3 bonus tracks on the vinyl version.) Lead single “Pride Before a Fall” finds them further exploring a similar landscape to previous album’s “Pangea”. Vocalist/songwriter/bassist Steve Kilbey sings in a higher register than usual in parts of the track, and the song also has an undulating, underwater feel, complete with whale-like sound effects. The sea has always figured in the Church and Kilbey’s solo work, and the rest of Further/Deeper is no different. From references to water, sea, and ocean in many of the lyrics to the burbly “Marine Drive”, it remains an evocative reference point.
This is not background music – it demands your attention. Along with the oft-surreal lyrics, there’s a lot of care put into the sonic details. There’s the backwards guitar in “Lightning White” and the bass growl in “Let Us Go”, plus things you may not hear unless you’re listening with headphones, like the whispered vocal tracks overlaid on top of the singing on sections of “Old Coast Road” and “Love Philtre”.
That track, “Love Philtre” (a very Kilbey-esque title from the word-loving songwriter), is a highlight marked by an unusual shifting of gears halfway through the song, when the mid-tempo cut is suddenly interrupted by a strummed acoustic guitar which strolls in from nowhere, only to be displaced by an angelic voice from on high singing wordless vocals, before the song slides back in.
Though the overall feel of the album has been called dark by some, that’s not my take. There’s an air of night and mystery, sure – and songs like “Vanishing Man” aren’t jaunty by any means – but for every ominous “Toy Head”, there’s a sparkling sunbeam of a song like “Laurel Canyon”, with its acoustic jangle that recalls old Church songs like “A Month of Sundays” and “10,000 Miles”.
Further/Deeper closes with the nearly nine-minute “Miami”, a track whose beginning guitar pattern echoes 1988’s “Destination”. In looking back to that high water mark time of the band’s popularity, they (whether consciously or not) bring the album back around to link with the past, reminding us and themselves of where they’ve come from before taking us in a new, modern direction — to a new destination, in effect. It’s a track and an album that moves onward and upward, further and deeper — a journey begun a long time ago in a 1980s galaxy far, far away.